Tech Center student paves way as female in male dominated program

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HOLLAND, Mich. – Careerline Tech Center (CTC) Auto Body Repair program student and Zeeland High School senior Eva Mokma stands out in the crowd in a traditionally male program as the only female student in the afternoon Auto Body Repair program.

“I wanted to step out of my comfort zone,” Mokma said. “I enrolled at Tech Center to overcome my anxiety and learn something new and that’s exactly what I did!”

In the last five years, the auto body industry has become extremely technical to keep up with how new vehicles are repaired. To be hired, employees need to follow strict processes and procedures to ensure vehicles are fixed correctly and are safe to drive. Students need to be highly literate and able to use math especially measuring.  

Auto Body Repair Program Instructor Robert Corrigan said Mokma is one of two female Tech students hired by local auto body shops in the past two years.

“Working at a body shop in the paint department requires artistic skills and precision from the welding to the painting,” Corrigan said. “While non-traditional hiring has been rare in the auto body field, the industry is starting to hire more females especially in the paint refinishing department.”

While Mokma has an art background and grew up around cars, she had never worked on cars let alone in an auto body shop before. Through the Tech Center Work-Based Learning program, Mokma began working in the Barber Ford Paint Department of the Collision Center twice a week. The quality of her work earned her an employment offer from Barber Ford upon high school graduation

Body Shop Manager for Barber Ford, Seth Ellery, said Mokma came highly recommended by the Tech Center Auto Body Repair program instructor. “She has a good work ethic and picks up things quickly,” Ellery said. “She accepted our offer to come on full time after graduation as a body shop apprentice. We’re looking forward to having her on staff.”

Ellery said two other former Careerline Tech Center students are currently working in the body shop. “The Tech Center Auto Body Repair program has been a great resource helping us find employees and we look forward to hiring more techs in the future.”

Corrigan said 196 of his former Auto Body Repair program students have been placed in jobs throughout Ottawa, Kent, Allegan and Muskegon counties with a 92% retention rate after 5 years. “Almost every shop in Ottawa County employs either 1 or multiple former or current students,” Corrigan said. Corrigan added former students are using their skills in a variety of ways including as head painters at auto dealerships to the head of a Herman Miller paint program. Students who complete the program can make between $30,000-$100,000 in 3 years.

Operated by Ottawa Area ISD, Careerline Tech Center prepares high school juniors and seniors for tomorrow’s workforce by providing career and technical education in more than 25 career areas. CTC serves students from public and private high schools, as well as those who are homeschooled, within the following local school districts: Allendale, Coopersville, Grand Haven, Hamilton, Holland, Hudsonville, Jenison, Saugatuck, Spring Lake, West Ottawa, and Zeeland. www.CareerlineTech.org

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